New strategy confines animals to cruelty

New strategy confines animals to cruelty

It always pays to read a Cabinet paper if you want to work out the real agenda behind a new government initiative.

The Government's recently released animal welfare strategy, and proposed changes to the Animal Welfare Act, are a case in point.

The strategy is full of phrases such as "it matters how animals are treated – it matters to the animals and it matters to us". So it would be easy to assume that the Government has had a change of heart around animal welfare.

But the Cabinet paper makes it abundantly clear that the real motive behind the reforms is to "safeguard our reputation as a responsible agricultural producer", and to protect our "ongoing ability to export animal products into animal welfare sensitive markets".

“Animal welfare matters because our trading partners and consumers want us to do the right thing by our animals,” the Cabinet paper notes. "One rogue producer, or even isolated cases of poor animal welfare, could do immeasurable market damage to our reputation as a responsible agricultural producer and affect our exports," it warns.

In other words, the Government is acutely aware of the growing consumer concern about animal welfare around the world, and is worried our meat exports could suffer if overseas consumers became concerned about some of our agricultural practices or, worse still, if overseas animal welfare groups decide to target New Zealand's animal welfare record.

The international animal welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been conducting a campaign against the practice of mulesing by Australian sheep farmers and against its live sheep export trade.

To avoid something similar happening here, the Government is keen to shore up our reputation as a responsible agricultural producer that takes animal welfare seriously.

There's nothing wrong with that, especially if the Government is serious about improving animal welfare standards in New Zealand. But the problem is it wants to shore up our reputation overseas, while at the same time allowing unbelievably cruel practices, such as keeping hens in cages, to continue indefinitely in this country.

More than three million hens live inside cages in this country and suffer foot damage, leg weakness and osteoporosis from having no exercise all of their lives. They also suffer skin damage and feather loss from rubbing against the cages.

Most of them suffer continuously from not being able to exercise, express their natural behaviour or even get away from other hens.

There is no excuse, in the 21st century, for imprisoning millions of hens like this – especially when there are perfectly acceptable alternative ways of raising hens on free-range farms.

Any government that was serious about animal welfare would therefore take swift action to stop this appalling practice. But the Government here is proposing no such thing.

Despite all the public relations spin in the new Animal Welfare strategy, it is proposing to allow egg producers to keep hens in battery cages for another 10 to fifteen years, and then switch to "colony" cages – which are just another version of a cruel cage system. And it is proposing a series of amendments to the Animal Welfare Act to make it even easier for egg producers to keep using these cage systems indefinitely.

It has also contributed several hundred thousand dollars to New Zealand's largest egg producer, Mainland Poultry, to help it set up its new system of colony cages.

For some odd reason Mainland Poultry invited me to have a look at its newly installed colony cages. I can assure you they are just as cruel as the old battery hen cages they are intended to replace.

Perhaps they were put off by my reaction to them, but they have since refused all media requests to have a look at these new cage systems.

All of this suggests the new Animal Welfare strategy is little more than a public relations exercise designed to make us look good in overseas export markets, while allowing cruel animal welfare practices to flourish in New Zealand.


Sue Kedgley